Wonder Woman 1984 Review: Guys, We Need to Talk
Not quite as wonderful as the first. Yeah, that was lazy wordplay.
My dear friend once defended his love of the newest Star Wars trilogy–and specifically The Rise of Skywalker–by stating to me, “I just love Star Wars.” This is a man who has such an unwavering dedication to an intellectual property that he can ignore its flaws and be thrilled by it. Don’t worry, there’s a point to this personal anecdote.
A critic just needs to be honest with themselves and the audience. They need to acknowledge bias where applicable. I expanded upon this in my article “Film Criticism, Objectivity, Life and the Dreaded 7/10 Review Score” back in October. I invoke the spirit of my friend–he’s not dead, why did I word it like that?–and I officially begin the actual review with this statement. I just love superhero movies.
Some more than others, obviously, and Wonder Woman falls into the “more than others” camp. It’s easy to impress me with the sub-genre because I’m so entrenched in the formula that I almost never rate a superhero movie less than an eight out of ten these days. There are certainly some average ones that even I can’t rate highly, but by and large I really dig superhero movies. So if you can trust me after knowing all this, read on.
Wonder Woman (2017) came out at a time where the DCEU was travelling down an oppressively dark–not a complaint, it’s a feature in my eyes–path. Instead of fully following what Snyder was accomplishing, it rode a line between the typical MCU flick and what the DCEU was doing. It struck the balance impressively, having enough gloom to be succinctly different from Marvel while also having a sufficient amount of clever jokes that didn’t feel shoehorned in just because we need some laughs to clear the night sky.
Wonder Woman 1984, on the other hand, is Patty Jenkins embracing brightness. It’s fitting of both the era in which it’s based and Diana Prince as a character. Prince is such a pure soul that it made thematic sense to create a parallel there between her and the way in which the film is presented.
Unfortunately, this is where the first problem appears. The first bit of this flick is rough. The opening scene did very little for me even though I understood that the purpose of it would reveal itself later. The music was way too whimsical for a portion of the film. It just didn’t seem to contain any of what made the original movie special.
For example, there’s a scene in a mall with a brief scuffle that was so cheesy that I had serious fears for the rest of the movie. It doesn’t help that occasionally the CGI is less than stellar. It wasn’t that I hated the scene; I just worried that I was witnessing another ho-hum superhero movie in the DC Universe, which they certainly don’t need. If Birds of Prey was better than Wonder Woman 1984–or at least equal to–I think I would have rioted.
Gal Gadot reading the internet reception.
All of that revealed another issue, albeit a smaller one. It doesn’t really possess those truly memorable action sequences that Wonder Woman (2017) did. You know what I’m going to mention here. Of course I’m talking about No Man’s Land. There are some moments where it flirts with that level of filmmaking perfection but it can never quite get there. To be frank, that sucks a little because it’s a superhero movie and the action falling a little flatter is worth noting.
With that said, this isn’t meant to be too degrading of what Jenkins and her crew choreographed. There are definitely exciting fights, but they are framed in a completely different way than its predecessor. There isn’t the same level of raw aggression that fans may desire, but Jenkins herself admitted that she wanted Diana to never kill anybody. This could definitely cause some strife because she kept her word on that, as far as I can tell, putting forth great effort to achieve that.
There’s a relatively powerful scene later on that was also the best demonstration of Jenkins’ motivation and her adherence to the philosophy that Wonder Woman is a peacekeeper. Now, you could easily make the argument that Wonder Woman is indeed a fantastic warrior–she is–but I don’t actually think that’s at odds with what Wonder Woman 1984 is trying. She can be battle hardened and skilled while also not wanting to kill people. Early on it felt a little forced but this goal really grew and came together more organically.
You could also say that the flick is a tad underwritten. Kristen Wiig’s villain Cheetah could have used a little more time to marinate, but I bought her enough. Look, the entire sub-genre has half-baked antagonists. I’m not endorsing lazily produced miscreants, I’m just simply saying that this movie is called Wonder Woman 1984, not Wonder Woman vs Cheetah. If the latter was the title then I would expect more from the villain, but as it stands, she is serviceable for the cause. It doesn’t matter anyway because Pascal’s Max Lord is the scene-stealer of the two.
There’s definitely blemishes that can rightfully be critiqued. But that’s all they are, blemishes. They aren’t glaring weaknesses that drown the film or flaws that can’t be overcome. Truthfully, I can ignore most of them (and I did), especially once you get past the initial growing paints and the film kicks it up several notches. We spoke on the bad, now we move onto the good.
Gal Gadot still embodies Wonder Woman. She has not yet proven herself as an actress that can perform effectively in a variety of roles, but she has damn well shown that she was the one to play Prince. She’s absolutely gorgeous–and if you read the recent Fandom Wars: Wonder Woman vs Captain Marvel article I posted you would see that my thirst is real–but this actually has a meaning to me in this context. It isn’t just me appreciating her as eye candy.
Wonder Woman is supposed to be a role model for girls and women everywhere. That doesn’t mean that every person needs to be as pretty as Gal Gadot, but her looks–specifically her smile–aids in making her appear as a kind soul. On top of that, we know that she can handle the physicality needed and she consistently shows that within this framework she can also handle the emotional heavy lifting. I’m constantly impressed by her when I see her as this character.
But opposite her you still have compelling performances. Pablo Pascal got over saying goodbye to Grogu (I haven’t and I won’t) and was able to give us a gripping performance of a deeply troubled man who stumbles across amazing power. Unhinged villains are sometimes the best villains. Likewise, Wiig did what she could–but to a lesser degree–with the Cheetah character and Chris Pine still had a tremendous amount of chemistry with Gadot.
Gal Gadot talking to somebody after she thought about what she had read.
Jenkins obviously wanted to subvert expectations. She had previously described how the original ending for Wonder Woman (2017) was a more personal affair. She was able to pursue that this time, presumably because she’s a known entity within this stratosphere now. This would be one of the reasons for having more focus on performances because the script is more dependent on talking, rather than fighting, so it’s also more demanding.
I see how all of this could be contentious. She mainly uses her gauntlets and the Lasso of Truth because she doesn’t want to kill anybody. It doesn’t have the same climactic altercation that one might expect. It’s more story-driven than anything, placing greater importance on the interactions between characters and not just action set pieces.
That doesn’t mean that when push comes to shove that it isn’t exciting, because for the most part the fighting is less banal than a lot of action movies. The self-imposed limitations that Jenkins established actually prompted a lot of creativity in how predicaments unfolded. I commend her for attempting something fresh. I salute her for succeeding.
All of that worked for me. I became invested, I enjoyed watching talented actors play off one another. I admit that my complete servitude to Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman carries a lot of the flick, and I don’t just mean because she’s gorgeous. Give me some credit; she’s just such a joy whenever she’s on screen that it’s hard to turn away.
I said how some elements are underwritten but the plot is sound. While it undoubtedly follows familiar tropes within the formula, it foregoes some of the typical trappings in order to resonate emotionally. Everything is in service of building Wonder Woman as a character. Does it completely revolutionize superhero movies? Of course not, but it’s a satisfyingly told tale with a few twists and turns and incredible sentimental potency–something that a lot of superhero movies lack.
Wonder Woman 1984 is going to go down as a controversial entry in the DC filmography, much like Batman v Superman and Man of Steel have. I acknowledge certain criticisms as valid but believe that they will be overblown just like those other two aforementioned flicks. Once I rid myself of my own expectations and embraced what it was going for I had a much better time.
Or y’know, maybe I just love superhero movies.
He is more powerful than Wonder Woman.
THAT'S ENOUGH, GET TO THE SCORE
THEY USED "BEAUTIFUL LIE" FROM THE BATMAN V SUPERMAN SOUNDTRACK!
Wonder Woman 1984 is lesser than its predecessor, for sure, but it’s also a different experience. It’s less action packed and heavier on dialogue–Jenkins was trying to pull off a more emotional sequel and she succeeded. There are flaws but as noted numerous times throughout the review, I was able to brush most–but not all–of them off.